This unfortunately suffered from the blight that I refer to as Myanmar time.
So when I arrange meetings, there is up to 30 minutes between the two! After Teacher Training, I declined the offer of beach soccer and was dropped back to my guest house by a taller student who has a job at a local hotel. He seems to be the favorite choice to pick me up and drop me off; I am only half joking when I say I think it’s because it’s easier for him to control the moped than some of the smaller, shorter students. No sooner had I dropped the Interchange textbook on my bed did I receive a phone call from one of the students who has impressively good English; although he warns me that his written work isn’t half as good as his spoken language.
He teaches a class at the Arakkha Renaissance Center, a few roads away from CEAL. The two institutions share a few students. Earlier in the week I had agreed to guest teach his class, after his admission that it was his dream to introduce his students to a native speaker. I would have taught the class without that, but flattery is always nice!
He collected me and I regret that I was a little late due to the misunderstanding that I had had about his class running or not. With no significant harm done, but half an hour of class time wasted, I arrived into a more traditional looking Myanmar classroom. It had big wooden tables with the benches attached, small windows and a stage for the somewhat ancient whiteboard and teacher. There were 25 big pairs of eyes looking at me from the wooden benches and I took a moment to compose myself before fully engaging with the class. This was my first experience of teaching from a platform, and I can’t say I liked it. Although the small area was only raised 6 inches from the ground, it gave a disproportionate sense of separation from the students. It very much felt like I was the teacher and the students must listen to me.
To be perfectly honest, I felt a jolt of nerves as I stood on the stage to write on the board. I have not performed like that since my high school drama days! It is not a good configuration for a student-centered classroom where students and teacher are equal partners in discovery. The teacher also admitted that he only uses the stage when it is necessary to write on the whiteboard. I had pre-prepared questions to ask the students about the Myanmar education system. They worked at first in small groups, and then in larger groups to answer the questions and give reasons for their yes or no answer. I should have spent more time on collective feedback, but I monitored all of the groups and they were able to explain to me as I moved around the class.
Next we did a quick grammar revision of question formation with “to do” and “to be” before the students wrote their own questions to ask me about the English education system. As a way to engage the students and move the topic from Myanmar to England, I did a brief dictation detailing the bones of the English education system. The students were good at listening and managed to pick out the numerical details that I had asked of them. Their questions were peer-reviewed for grammatical errors, especially those to do with formation using to do and to be. I then sat on the stage and answered 45 minutes of intelligent questions about both the English education system and my views on the Myanmar system. I answered thoughtfully, making sure to grade my language so that I was as certain as I could be that the majority understood my answers. There were typical questions such as: do students follow teachers instructions in England to deeper questions of how parents and teachers ensure that students self-study and how do I feel about the non-inclusion of ethic minorities in the Burmese curriculum set by the ruling military.
During the class I met two other people: one who used to teach at the center before getting a job in HR, and the other who shares the course with the teacher. She teaches grammar to the same students. I would be very keen to watch lessons that both she and the other teachers run, to see exactly how they interpret a student-centered classroom. We finished the lesson with a rousing rendition of Westlife’s Fool Again which the students all seemed happy to join in with. Not something you would find in the English education system I can assure you!
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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